“You must pay Bagan entrance fee now or I call police!”
This short surly woman clearly wasn’t messing around with me or the other boat passengers that were now all frantically fumbling around in their pockets. From the look of things, I clearly wasn’t the only one that had been caught off guard by the 25,000 kyat ($20 USD) per person fee. A quick wallet check revealed that I was around 15,000 kyat short, and the woman in charge had already made it clear that nobody was leaving until each group had payed up.
After such a calming ferry ride from Mandalay, I was beginning to think that the uncomfortable times I had experienced to get here were behind me. Stepping off the makeshift ramp into the crowded group of locals, I was even able to split a taxi with another passenger to lower the overall cost of the ride to around 5,000 kyat per person ($4 USD). My voyage to Bagan seemed to be continuing its upward trajectory and I could not have been happier.
“Bagan entrance fee office here.”
He motioned towards a small building that had “Archeological Zone Tourist Fee” written in big bold letters on the outside. Standing next to the building and around the streets were other tourists looking just as confused as I was. Asking the driver if I could go to the hotel first and pay later, he shook his head and wouldn’t budge.
Having read up on this fee, I had assumed visitors can just pick up their ticket at any point before setting off to explore the Old Bagan site. Clearly this wasn’t the case, and nobody was going anywhere until they emerged from the ticket office with their pre-paid slip.
Squeezing my way inside, I was given a bit more information – 25,000 kyat and I’d get to explore all the sights of Bagan for up to 5 days. Seemed reasonable, considering that a 1 day pass to Angkor Wat costs about the same. The only problem was that I just didn’t have that kind of cash on me, and they certainly weren’t taking credit cards.
Surely this must be a common enough occurrence that they have ATMs nearby, right? Well if they did, the woman at the front of the room wasn’t acknowledging this. She was more than happy to take US dollars though, so I fished out and handed over $20 from my emergency backup stash. Swiping it away, she inspected the bill for a moment before handing it back over with a head shake.
“Cannot take. Crease down center.”
At this point I was running low on options. Either she could take the slightly creased US bill, the insufficient kyat, or I’d have to come back later. Explaining this to her in the most friendly tone I could muster, she firmly reminded me of my 4th and only remaining option: pay the Bagan entrance fee now or she’d be calling the police.
Having to explain this situation to the police was just about the last thing I wanted to do.
Maybe the guy I was splitting the taxi with had some extra kyat, or a crisp $20 that he’d be kind enough to lend… This was really the only glimmer of hope I had at this point.
Getting back outside required a bit of pleading on my part, since the attendant really didn’t want me out of her sight until I had forked over my cash. Eventually though, I was able to convince her that I had more crisp money in my large bag, so she suspiciously let me go.
Climbing back into the taxi, where my compatriot was waiting patiently with his entry ticket, I quickly built up the courage to ask for my small loan. Before I could say anything though, I caught the gaze of the driver who was peering back at me through the rearview mirror.
Sheepishly looking out my side window, I could already see the female agent arguing with a new set of confused visitors.
“Yep, let’s go.”
Not my proudest travel moment and, as we pulled away, I couldn’t help but feel a bit guilty – like I was pulling one over on the (not so) nice Bagan entrance fee collectors. Really though, I just hoped that I wouldn’t run into that same woman when I returned later.
So, even if you’re traveling to Bagan via ferry, just make sure to bring plenty of kyat or a super crisp $20 bill.